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Prevent and Treat Childhood Obesity

Dealing with obesity can be frightening and frustrating. Here's help.

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Updated November 11, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

overweight boy by Vicky Kasala

Face childhood obesity with a smile and a positive attitude.

Vicky Kasala/Photodisc

Hearing a childhood obesity diagnosis—or even a warning that a child might be at risk—can be devastating for a parent. But there are many ways you can work toward reversing or preventing childhood obesity. In doing so, you'll lower your child's risk of serious health consequences. And it's likely that your entire family will benefit from the lifestyle changes you put in place.

Three Steps to Tackling Childhood Obesity

It's not easy to do this on your own, and sometimes it's not even safe. So discuss your child's needs with his doctor. She may refer you to a behavior-management or counseling program that addresses the many unique causes of obesity, or to a nutritionist who can help you with meal planning. At home, take a three-pronged approach. Your child needs your help to improve his diet, his activity level, and probably his self-esteem too.

1. Improve Eating Habits

If your child is overweight or obese, he doesn't need a crash diet. He needs an improved way of eating that he can sustain for years to come. And it will be easier for both him and you if you apply changes to the entire family's menu. Again, discuss your child's specific needs with his doctor and/or a nutritionist. In many cases, kids are advised not to lose weight, but to avoid gaining more as they grow and their height catches up to their weight.

In general, you want to move your whole family toward a diet that is lower in fat, salt, and sugar, and rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, and whole grains. These offer much more bang for your calorie buck. Also beware of beverages. It's easy to rack up an unhealthy, unnecessary number of calories by drinking them (in soda or juice, for example; these contain lots of sugar). Serve water and low- or non-fat milk instead.

2. Increase Physical Activity

From the preschool years and on into adulthood, we all need at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Don't be alarmed—those 60 minutes don't have to be consecutive. Short bursts of activity count toward the overall total.

And of course, active play and exercise have benefits far beyond weight loss or maintenance; physical activity can reduce stress, boost the immune system, and strengthen the heart and lungs along with muscles and bones.

3. Boost Self-Esteem in Overweight Kids

Kids who are overweight often have low self-esteem, and the two conditions can combine to form a vicious cycle. So as you help your child make physical changes through diet and activity, also strive to build his emotional and psychological health.

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